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April 02 2013

10:43

Book Review: Data Visualization: a successful design process by Andy Kirk

Data Visualization CoverMy next review is of Andy Kirk’s book Data Visualization: a successful design process. Those of you on Twitter might know him as @visualisingdata, where you can follow his progress around the world as he delivers training. He also blogs at Visualising Data.

Previously in this area, I’ve read Tufte’s book The Visual Display of Quantitative Information and Nathan Yau’s Visualize ThisTufte’s book is based around a theory of effective visualisation whilst Visualize This is a more practical guide featuring detailed code examples. Kirk’s book fits between the two: it contains some material on the more theoretical aspects of effective visualisation as well as an annotated list of software tools; but the majority of the book covers the end-to-end design process.

Data Vizualisation introduced me to Anscombe’s Quartet. The Quartet is four small datasets, eleven (x,y) coordinate pairs in each. The Quartet is chosen so the common statistical properties (e.g. mean values of x and y, standard deviations for same, linear regression coefficients) for each set are identical, but when plotted they look very different. The numbers are shown in the table below.

Anscombe Quartet Data

Plotted they look like this:

Anscombe's QuartetAside from set 4, the numbers look unexceptional. However, the plots look strikingly different. We can easily classify their differences visually, despite the sets having the same gross statistical properties. This highlights the power of visualisation. As a scientist, I am constantly plotting the data I’m working on to see what is going on and as a sense check: eyeballing columns of numbers simply doesn’t work. Kirk notes that the design criteria for such exploratory visualisations are quite different from those highlighting particular aspects of a dataset, more abstract “data art” presentations, or a interactive visualisations prepared for others to use.

In contrast to the books by Tufte and Yau, this book is much more about how to do data visualisation as a job. It talks pragmatically about getting briefs from the client and their demands. I suspect much of this would apply to any design work.

I liked Kirk’s “Eight Hats of data visualisation design” metaphor; which name the skills a visualiser requires: Initiator, Data Scientist, Journalist, Computer Scientist, Designer, Cognitive Scientist, Communicator and Project Manager. In part, this covers what you will require to do data visualisation, but it also gives you an idea of whom you might turn to for help  –  someone with the right hat.

The book is scattered with examples of interesting visualisations, alongside a comprehensive taxonomy of chart types. Unsurprisingly, the chart types are classified in much the same way as statistical methods: in terms of the variable categories to be displayed (i.e. continuous, categorical and subdivisions thereof). There is a temptation here though: I now want to make a Sankey diagram… even if my data doesn’t require it!

In terms of visualisation creation tools, there are no real surprises. Kirk cites Excel first, but this is reasonable: it’s powerful, ubiquitous, easy to use and produces decent results as long as you don’t blindly accept defaults or get tempted into using 3D pie charts. He also mentions the use of Adobe Illustrator or Inkscape to tidy up charts generated in more analysis-oriented packages such as R. With a programming background, the temptation is to fix problems with layout and design programmatically which can be immensely difficult. Listed under programming environments is the D3 Javascript library, this is a system I’m interested in using  –  having had some fun with Protovis, a D3 predecessor.

Data Visualization works very well as an ebook. The figures are in colour (unlike the printed book) and references are hyperlinked from the text. It’s quite a slim volume which I suspect compliments Andy Kirk’s “in-person” courses well.


January 20 2012

19:00

Matthew Battles: It doesn’t take Cupertino to make textbooks interactive

Absent the glamour of the black mock turtleneck, Apple’s Thursday event, held at the Guggenheim Museum in New York, still came bearing flowers of rhetoric, lovingly transplanted from their native soil in Cupertino’s sunny clime. One such rhetorical staple, the feature checklist, made its appearance about nine minutes in. Usually, the checklist is used to contrast Apple’s latest magical object with the feature set of lesser smartphones or other misbegotten tech tchotchkes; it was more than a little eye-popping to see the same rhetoric of invidious comparison used against the book in full — that gadget which, as senior VP Phil Schiller reminded us, was invented (in its print incarnation) back at the end of the Hundred Years’ War.

As Schiller ticked down the list, for feature after feature — portability, durability, interactivity, searchability, and currency — the book earned a big red X. Curiously, Schiller didn’t let his earlier observation of the antiquity of books undermine his critique on the grounds of their durability; not only the technology of the book, but many actual tomes survive from Gutenberg’s era; and when older formats are taken into account, far older books are still with us. It is comparatively difficult to imagine an iPad of today, much less an app designed to run on one, still in use two hundred, five hundred, a thousand years hence.

In a more focused sense, Apple’s critique of the textbook is valid. But the problem with textbooks isn’t that they’re books per se; it’s that they’re overdetermined, baroque in their complexity and ornamentation.

Modern textbooks are monsters — heavy, unwieldy, battened on siloed content. They’re like ’90s-era computers, loaded with bloatware that blunts their processor speed and complicates their interfaces. Already, today’s textbooks rarely come as paper-only devices, but include (for significant extra licensing fees) websites, online editions, networked assessments, and interactive assignments. For the wired child, these electronic ancillaries solve the portability problem; for the less prosperous or fortunate pupil, the backpack is still very heavy.

The major education publishers have become massively efficient inhalers of content, capturing licenses for images and objects held in museums around the globe, hiring phalanxes of MAs and ABDs to craft mazes of matrices, rubrics, and quizzes, and deploying batteries of sales reps to market-test every page, every image, every checklist. It’s a prosperous model — and as Tim Carmody evocatively documented at Wired yesterday, this prosperity has enabled education publishers to leverage their way into trade publishing and other media. It’s no wonder Apple is taking aim at them.

The iPad is an extraordinary device, but it’s hardly the first avenue multimedia has taken to the classroom. The filmstrips and 16mm movies of my childhood could be engaging experiences too — and they could be time-fillers for addled, overstretched teachers as well. Schiller made a sentimental play to this constituency, opening his presentation with a series of excerpted interviews in which teachers sang the sad litany of challenges they face: cratering budgets, overcrowded classrooms, unprepared, disengaged students. The argument that Apple — founded by dropouts and autodidacts — is fundamentally motivated to change this set of conditions is as ludicrous as the notion that the company could ever hope actually to do any such thing.

The textbooks demonstrated in yesterday’s event were lovely and compelling — and they looked strikingly like current textbooks. Roger Rosner, who heads productivity software for Apple, gave a tour of Life on Earth, a title created in conjunction with E. O. Wilson’s Encyclopedia of Life project; after playing the book’s cinematic introductory sequence, he swiped through pages featuring familiar modalities of intertextual braiding and layering: things like tables, block capitals, and callout boxes, which derive from mid-20th-century rotogravure magazine production — only sprinkled with videos, animations, and interactive images, in Apple-controlled formats, subject to development cycles originating in Cupertino (and routed through Shenzhen). At one point, he dove into a microphotograph of a cell to pop out a rendering of a strand of DNA. The helix shimmered invitingly, but disclosed none of its secrets.

Here’s the thing: Interactivity doesn’t exist. More properly, everything is interactive. We use the catch-all term “interactivity” to brand as novel the qualities exhibited by digital objects striving to be like real-world objects. But chairs, raindrops, sandwiches, and envelopes are also interactive — in their own evolved ways. Books in fact exhibit rich interactive habits, evolved to engage us in peculiar ways (and increasingly, these very features are counted as bugs).

Digital objects, too, evolve their own ways of reaching out to meet us halfway. The spell of the real makes us strive for a specious virtuality, to try fashioning uncanny appendages for objects that live in databases and go to work in networks. Tellingly, it’s at those uncanny intersections where digital objects most strenuously try to emulate objects in the real world — books, shelves, desk blotters, gaming tables — that Apple’s legitimately vaunted design sensibility breaks down. For its part, a pop-up animation of a lipid molecule might be enlightening — or it might merely be twisty and pretty. That’s why I almost want to say that, those heartfelt teacher testimonials at the start of yesterday’s show notwithstanding, it’s not the book Apple is trying to replace — it’s teaching.

Tools exist — they’re getting more powerful everyday — that allow us to treat digital objects as digital objects: to collect and organize them, to fashion stories from them, to turn them into bespoke devices uniquely tuned to unlocking the world’s mysteries. Apple wants to offer us those tools as well. Yesterday’s event also introduced iBooks Author, a free app for building iPad-native textbooks like Life on Earth. But increasingly, such vital aggregates can be engineered in classrooms, hacked together on the fly by teachers and students learning and teaching collaboratively. I’m thinking in particular of Zeega, an open-source toolkit for collecting media and telling stories, which is in the midst of development in association with metaLAB, the research/design group I work with at Harvard — but a host of other such tools exist or are on the way.

We can never count Apple out — the company’s visions have an implacable way of turning into givens — but the future is undoubtedly more complex. There will still be overcrowded classrooms, overworked teachers, and shrinking budgets in an education world animated by Apple. But I prefer to think of teachers and students finding ways to hack knowledge and make their own beautiful stories to envisioning ranks of students spellbound by magical tablets.

Matthew Battles is the author of Library: An Unquiet History and cofounder of HiLobrow. He is a program fellow at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society, where he works for metaLAB, a research and design group investigating the arts and humanities in a time of networks.

January 17 2012

07:17

Gil Scott-Heron: The Last Holiday - audio slideshow | Books | guardian.co.uk

Good example of Soundslides. Very good photo research here - you can see how the producers took great care to match the images to exactly what the narration is talking about. The book being discussed is Gil Scott-Heron's memoir. Historic photos include many of MLK, Stevie Wonder, Jesse Jackson.

January 03 2012

16:34

Daily Must Reads, Jan. 3, 2012

The best stories across the web on media and technology, curated by Nathan Gibbs


1. The Internet changes how we remember (Scientific American)

2. Larry Downes: Why Best Buy is going out of business...gradually (Forbes)

3. The verified Twitter account for Rupert Murdoch's wife was fake (ReadWriteWeb)

4. Volkswagen turns off Blackberry email after work hours (BBC News)

5. Laura Hazard Owen: What's 2012 holds for book publishing (paidContent)



Subscribe to our daily Must Reads email newsletter and get the links in your in-box every weekday!



Subscribe to Daily Must Reads newsletter

This is a summary. Visit our site for the full post ».

16:34

Daily Must Reads, Jan. 3, 2011

The best stories across the web on media and technology, curated by Nathan Gibbs


1. The Internet changes how we remember (Scientific American)

2. Larry Downes: Why Best Buy is going out of business...gradually (Forbes)

3. The verified Twitter account for Rupert Murdoch's wife was fake (ReadWriteWeb)

4. Volkswagen turns off Blackberry email after work hours (BBC News)

5. Laura Hazard Owen: What's 2012 holds for book publishing (paidContent)



Subscribe to our daily Must Reads email newsletter and get the links in your in-box every weekday!



Subscribe to Daily Must Reads newsletter

This is a summary. Visit our site for the full post ».

August 28 2011

23:07

ScrollMotion: A Revolution in Motion Graphics, Defining a New Form of Video for Apps

ScrollMotion, a 100-person, fast-growing  New York City start-up, has developed an enterprise solution for publishers and companies to create unique, video-rich Apps for the Apple iOS and Android platforms.

Beet.TV sat down with co-founder Josh Koppel, who has an extensive background in motion graphics and video, to explain how his company is redefining the very notion of the moving image in digital media.

He explains how static images like photographs and instructional pages in textbooks become moving elements on the iPad and other devices.  He also discusses the use of conventional video assets in Apps.

Some of the company's high profile customers include Hearst's Oprah and Esquire magazine, the Harry Potter Wizardry film App, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and the 2010 GE annual report.  Several examples are included in this video.

Andy Plesser

 

 

Tags: Apple Books

August 03 2011

06:55

7 books that journalists working online should read?

Image by B_Zedan

While it’s one thing to understand interactive storytelling, community management, or the history of online journalism, the changes that are affecting journalism are wider than the industry itself. So although I’ve written previously on essential books about online journalism, I wanted to also compile a list of books which I think are essential for those wanting to gain an understanding of wider dynamics affecting the media industries and, by extension, journalism.

These are books that provide historical context to the hysteria surrounding technologies; that give an insight into the cultural movements changing society; that explore key philosophical issues such as privacy; or that explore the commercial dynamics driving change.

But they’re just my choices – please add your own.

1. The Master Switch – Tim Wu

The best mainstream history of media technologies I’ve certainly read (although Winston’s ‘Media, Technology and Society‘ is very good too, if a more academic read). Wu tells the story of how radio, film, television and other media technologies went through a consistent path from ‘democratised technologies’ to media monopolies.

It’s a salutary tale for those who think the internet is different. If it is, then it will need to avoid the mistakes made by regulators, legislators and inventors. And those who don’t learn from history…

2. The Information – James Gleick

An astonishing masterwork that begins with why African talking drums were so wordy (it’s all about redundancy), takes in genetics, code-breaking and quantum physics, and in the process draw some very useful lessons about the changing nature of communication and information that help you take a step back from our own assumptions.

3. The Pirate’s Dilemma – Matt Mason

This covers the histories that lie behind the rise of mashups, guerilla marketing, and other cultural movements. A valuable lesson on where to look for change, and how that movements themselves change as different groups adopt their ideas. The book is available as a free download at http://thepiratesdilemma.com/, as is Lawrence Lessig’s book exploring similar themes, Free Culture.

4. The Wealth of Networks – Yochai Benkler

Widely recognised as the most comprehensive book on network dynamics. Given that these are so integral to everything that takes place online, that makes this a pretty vital book. And this is not just about online networks: the book draws on research into real world networks and communities and where they succeed and fail – vital foundations for any online project.

5. The Spy in the Coffee Machine – O’Hara & Shadbolt

A compact exploration of privacy in the networked age, and how digital technologies are impacting on that. Particularly useful are the passages that explore different cultures’ attitudes to privacy, and the case studies that help the reader explore the ethical issues raised by recent developments and technological possibilities.

6. Search Engine Society – Alexander Halavais

Another compact book, this explores research around how people use search engines, including some types of behaviour that you would not otherwise think about, such as the importance of re-finding, and different types of search literacy. Useful in understanding how people navigate the virtual world.

7. Creative Disruption – Simon Waldman

Although there are many books exploring the successes of new digital businesses, Simon Waldman’s book attempts something much more difficult: looking at how established businesses have tried to adapt to survive in the midst of great change. The book is very well written and does a particularly good job of explaining the various elements that form the basis of any business’s competitive advantage; how the internet changes those; and methods that have been used to respond. It’s a welcome reminder that, like any business, publishing is not just about content, but advertising, distribution, manufacturing and numerous other factors too.

A good book on the legal or political history would be particularly welcome to add to the list – or just something very good that I’ve never heard of. What books would you add?

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July 27 2011

19:19

An advertorial publication - The Staff Recommends books they like, and when they are paid for

Would you rely on recommendations, when your adviser is paid for the coverage? - Difficult to answer. Depends on the context? If this decision rule is transparent from the beginning?

The Staff Recommends :: "Because deciding what to read is a difficult proposition. Each year, better than 175,000 books are published, and you’re going to read what, 10? 15? 50? Books can be pricey, a real investment of money and time—you can’t afford to choose poorly. Or, you’re going on vacation and packing space is limited. Do you want to be stuck with a dud? "

Their service promise: "We make sure you’ll have a dud-free reading life."

What's the business model? - Publishers send The Staff Recommends books they wish to be considered for a review. It is still a decision of the staff if a book will be features, but if they plan to publish it, "then publishers pay us to have their book featured here." - what happens if the staff says "yes" and the publisher "no" we won't pay?

Visit their website www.thestaffrecommends.com

Discussed by Justin Ellis, niemanlab.org

July 19 2011

14:10

Video: Scribd Launches "Float," New Reading App for the Web and iPad

Scribd, the San Francisco-based document sharing company, has launched an App to read a variety of text files on the Web and on the iPhone, the company announced today.

Last week, we interviewed CTO and co-founder Jared Friedman about Float.  We interviewed him in Scribd's offices via Skype Video.

Below is a demo of Float provided by the company.

Andy Plesser

Tags: Books eReaders

July 03 2011

21:02

Updated gear, tool & book guide, bonus mobile tools included too

Photo courtesy Stéfan Le Dû on Flickr

So as the school year has come to an end I’ve had several requests form graduating seniors for advice on what gear they should purchase to add to their arsenal  to get them ready for the next step of their career. A long time ago I set up a gear guide to help people with this, but it’d been a while since I’d updated it, until this weekend. So take a gander if you’re curious, looking for some interesting summer reading or in the market for new multimedia, mobile gear or books, check it out.

I also added a couple more categories to better split out the topics into more clear buckets: Design, development, mobile/tablet tools, management & leadership, social media & community, video/audio/photo gear and video/audio/photo training. … Oh, and “Nerdtastic stuff”… my favorite category of quirky nerd tools and gifts.

Full Disclosure: That is an affiliate link, so if you make a purchase I’ll get a 4% kick back, which I’ll use towards hosting costs for the site. It doesn’t cost you any more, just sends a little cash my way for helping create the resource.

Flickr photo courtesy Stéfan Le Dû

March 11 2011

12:07

THE FUTURE OF BOOKS AND LIBRARIES

Question: Libraries in a digital age: Where do books fit in?

Answer: In our digital tablets.

February 21 2011

15:00

McSweeney’s latest love note to newspapers: The Goods

If I was looking for an easily identifiable trigger for my love of reading, it would most likely be devouring Peanuts (and later Calvin and Hobbes) in the Sunday Star Tribune as a kid. (Whether that had anything to do with my decision to work in newspapers is harder to trace. Though it may have had something to do with Clark Kent.)

Mac Barnett, the editor behind McSweeney’s The Goods, had a similar experience. “One of my big memories as a kid, on Sundays, my dad would peel off the funny pages as he would read the newspaper,” Barnett told me. “I think that trained me to have a certain fondness for the newspaper. I don’t think kids have that now.”

That may be Barnett’s guiding principle as he oversees The Goods, an update on the classic kids page and McSweeney’s latest love note to newspapers, which debuts today. Though unlike the acclaimed (and gorgeous if you never got a look) Panorama, The Goods is going to be published on the regular thanks to a syndication deal with Tribune Media Services.

Instead of a Jumble and Family Circus, The Goods offers things like a vision quest, a secret-language-creation center, and Abraham Super Lincoln, defender of truth and justice. (Probably not to be confused with the vampire-slaying Lincoln.) It’s something akin to updating or “re-imagining” a classic film or old TV show: taking the markers and elements you liked and giving it a contemporary (and hopefully improved) spin.

In an email to readers, McSweeney’s described The Goods as “a half-page comics/puzzle/goofy-writing serial, both child-pleasing and heartache-relieving, and meant to appear in a newspaper much like yours.” The Goods will feature weekly material from an ever-rotating group of artists and illustrators, including Jon Adams, Laurie Keller, Sean Qualls, Mo Willems, and Jennifer Traig, to name a few.

When Panorama was in its development stages Barnett suggested to Dave Eggers the idea of a kids page to add another layer to the magazine-turned newspaper experience. “We wanted to present a lot of ideas that could be broken out or just completely stolen or used by newspapers for their benefit,” Barnett said.

Eggers has not been bashful in talking about his affection for print and how it connects to literacy in kids. In creating Panorama, Eggers and the McSweeney’s team offered up a collector’s item as a blueprint to help the newspaper industry. The Goods is a step further, though not one that was originally planned. “There wasn’t any intention to start a syndicated section,” Barnett said. “But I think we were all eager to do it.”

And now they’ve got to find newspapers eager to take them, papers that hopefully haven’t trimmed back too many pages and have room to add The Goods alongside Mark Trail and his friends. Success here likely hinges on getting papers to buy in and convincing parents: “You like McSweeney’s — so might your kids!” In their email to readers, McSweeney’s encouraged its fans to contact the features editor at their local paper and offer up The Goods.

“I think part of my job overseeing this is making sure that the content of The Goods is high, and respectful of kids’ intellect, but that the books they’re connected to will be good too,” Barnett said.

Barnett said the authors and illustrators working on The Goods are already familiar with the evolving tastes in children’s books and are trying to develop material that is smart and funny to kids. So yes, it may be goofy — there may in fact be ice cream cones riding motorcycles and talking animals — but it also includes a healthy dose of facts about U.S. vice presidents. Something like The Goods can show that newspapers care about kids, and maybe leave a window open to reading beyond the comics page, Barnett said.

“I would love for kids 10-20 years from now to have fond memories about The Goods,” he said.

January 18 2011

18:58

Vook Raises $5.25 Million Venture Round

Vook, the Emeryville-based digital publisher has raised a series A venture round of $5.25 million, the company announced today.

The company creates mixed media treatments of books with text, video and graphics and makes them available to a variety of mobile devices.

Last January, we sat down with founder and CEO Brad Inman for a chat about the company's technology and strategy.

Vook received favorable mentions in this past Sunday's New York Times Magazine in a story about digital book reading by Virginia Heffernan

Andy Plesser

 

Tags: Books Devices

December 08 2010

15:00

Nicholas Christakis on the networked nature of Twitter

Earlier this fall, Alyssa Milano — known for being on “Who’s the Boss” and, more recently, for being on Twitter — sent out a somewhat surprising tweet to her nearly 1.2 million followers: a link to the Amazon page of a book called Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks & How They Shape Our Lives.

For a book like Connected, penned by two social scientists and built on longitudinal research and academic inquiry — a book, in other words, that may hope to achieve influence over our thinking, but doesn’t aspire to huge sales numbers — you’d think that a message broadcast from a heavily followed Twitter account would lead to a proportionally large spike in sales. Amplification, after all, comes from size: The more followers a person has, the more people who will see a message and who will, potentially, retweet it — and, thus, the more people who will potentially act on it. We know it intuitively: In general, the greater the numbers, the greater the viral power.

So, then, how many extra books did Connected’s authors, Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler, sell in the wake of their million-follower tweet?

None. Literally, not a one. In fact — insult, meet injury! — in the days and weeks following Milano’s tweet, the book’s sales actually declined. The actress’ follower numbers, in this case, hadn’t been a force for much of anything. “At least with respect to the influence of behavior,” Christakis noted, “these links — these Twitter links — are weak.”

But, hey, maybe it was just an Alyssa Milano thing: It’s pretty fair to figure that the overlap between her followers and the universe of people who might buy a sciency book by two professors would be, you know, low. So Christakis and Fowler asked Tim O’Reillynearly 1.5 million followers, with, ostensibly, more book-interest overlap — to send the Connected link out to his feed.

The result? “We sold one extra copy of the book.”

Same experiment, with Pew’s Susannah Fox (4,960 followers)? Three extra copies.

If you’re interested in the way information spreads online — and if you’re interested in the future of news, you probably are — then the low volume-to-impact rate the authors found (which, though completely anecdotal, flies in the face of so much conventional wisdom) is fascinating. And it begs a question that appears so often in academic inquiry: What’s up?

In a talk yesterday evening at IBM’s T.J. Watson Research Center in Cambridge (we wrote about another IBM event, with dataviz guru Jer Thorp, this summer), Christakis, a professor both at Harvard Medical School and its Faculty of Arts and Sciences, dove into that question, discussing the particular (and peculiar) ways that social networks — online and off — work.

The talk focused on the epidemiology of action — how and whether certain behaviors spread through a population. (More on that here.) Though we often talk about social connections in terms of simple binaries — friend vs. not-friend, weak ties versus strong — the ties that bind people together, Christaskis’ research suggests, are nowhere near as simple as we often assume. There’s the obvious — your Facebook friend may not be your friend friend — but also, more murkily but more fascinatingly, the complex of connections that affect our behavior in surprising ways.

For the Lab’s purposes, one especially intriguing element of the discussion focused on Twitter — and the extent to which ideas spread through Twitter’s network actually catch on and have impact. One binary that might actually be relevant in that regard, Christakis suggested: influencer versus influence-ee. “If we’re really going to advance this field, we need to figure out how to identify not just influential people, but also influenceable people,” the professor noted. “We need not just shepherds, but sheep.” And “if we’re going to exploit online ties,” Christakis said — say, by creating communities of interest around news content, and potentially monetizing those communities — then “measures of meaningful interactions will be needed”: We need metrics, in particular, to determine “which online interactions represent real relationships, where an influence might possibly be exerted.”

For that, he continued, “we need to distinguish between influential, or real, ties online, and uninfluential, or weak, ties online.”

The next question: How do you do that? How do you look beyond standard (and, per Christakis’ anecdotal evidence, misleading) metrics like Twitter follower/Facebook friend counts and find more meaningful metrics of influence? One benefit of social networks’ movement online is that their dynamics are (relatively) easily trackable: We’re able as never before to put data behind the interactions that define society as a whole, and, in that, understand them better. (Connected, on the other hand — whose conclusions are based on data sets of social flow that were cultivated, over a period of years, from physical documents — didn’t have that luxury.)

And while Christakis’ talk raised as many questions as it answered — we’re still in early days when it comes to measuring behavioral influences online — one of his core ideas is an insight that several news organizations are already putting to practice: the power of the niche. Much more significant and influential than single celebrities — individual nodes in a network — are the “niches within the network where you have the particular assemblage of influential people and their followers.” When influence is layered — when its fabric is made stronger by tight connections across a smaller network — it’s more predictable, and more powerful.

And that has big implications not only for news organizations, but also for the platforms that are hoping to translate their ubiquity into financial and social gain. If you want your work to have impact, then targeting a bundle of closely connected networks — with news, with links, with messages — may make more sense than going for numbers alone. Spreading a conversation is not the same as affecting it. “I’m not saying that Twitter is useless,” Christakis said, “but I think that the ability of Twitter to disseminate information is different than its ability to influence behavior.”

November 23 2010

19:36

Best Sellers: Using Our Own Open-Source Projects

We recently launched a front-end app for Times best sellers data, using our own open-source tools and public Best Sellers API.

November 08 2010

02:10

Our Daisy Whitney Gets First Novel Published by Little Brown

Many of us know Daisy Whitney as one of the sharpest observers of the online video scene, having written for many years for Television Week, and now contributing to VideoNuze and Beet.TV and others. 

She also consults, does TV appearances and programs high profile events like last week's ad:tech in New York.

If that isn't enough, she  is now a published author, with teen novel The Mockingbirds published last week by LIttle Brown.

We caught up with her at her Manhattan book party on Thursday evening for this brief chat.

Daisy, congratualtions -- hope the book is a big success.

Andy Plesser

Tags: Books

October 18 2010

16:11

BookBrewer Makes Major Self-Publishing Deal with Borders

This has been one of the most amazing, rewarding and surreal weeks of my life.

Borders has chosen BookBrewer -- the first product of my startup, FeedBrewer, which grew out of a News Challenge grant -- to power the engine for its e-book self-publishing service. You can read about our partnership in the official press release, or in media coverage from a variety of sources including Fast Company, Publishers Weekly and PC Magazine.

Bordersgetpublished_small.jpg

We made the announcement at BlogWorld Expo, one of the largest confabs of bloggers and new media enthusiasts in
the world. The response at our booth was enormous and even overwhelming
at times, with people lined up to talk to me, my team and Borders' e-book manager Kelly Peterson about how they can turn their content into sellable e-books. Their response is not surprising, given the explosive growth in e-book sales in recent months.

About BookBrewer

So what is BookBrewer? It's a web-based tool that helps you turn content from your blog, or Word or PDF documents on your computer, into e-books that can be sold on your through multiple online e-book stores, own through your own website. After importing your blog, you then add posts and organize them into chapters, edit and enhance content, and push a button. BookBrewer then turns your content into an e-pub that most e-book stores require. You can pay one fee to have it published to e-book stores we work with, or another fee to just get the file to do with as you wish.

This video shows how it works:

BookBrewer Help: Building Your Book from Dan Pacheco on Vimeo.


Some highlights on our partnership with Borders:

  • On October 25 the same technology and user experience will be surfaced on a separate site called "Borders Get Published, Powered by BookBrewer." You can enter your email address on the form on Borders.bookbrewer.com to be notified as soon as the service launches.
  • Books published through both BookBrewer and Borders Get Published will be available for purchase on Borders.com and viewable in Borders-branded apps (such as Kobo), but will also appear in other eBook stores that BookBrewer has relationships with. Those include Amazon.com and KoboBooks.com, with more on the way.
  • Borders will use its marketing muscle to encourage thousands of new authors to get published, and will promote promising new authors in its weekly emails and on its website. This is a huge boon for self-published authors because Borders reaches more than 30 million people per week in emails alone.
boothteam.jpg



Our booth team, from left to right: Todd Levy, Laurelie Ezra, Kelly Peterson, Dan Pacheco.

BookBrewer, which only launched last week, will operate as its own entity. We will serve customers through both sites and will roll out more strategic "Powered By BookBrewer" services throughout the year that benefit our company and partners, in addition to other services for authors and content providers. With one of the largest bookstores in the world on board, we're now shifting our focus to companies with content or content relationships.

Given my news background, I know that a lot of newspapers and magazines have "evergreen" packages or investigative reports that would stand the test of time as e-books. I will be reaching out to some of you about that at the Online News Association conference later this month. And you freelancers/entrepreneurial journalists out there? This is a fantastic opportunity to pay for freight while also building your brand.

Borders' Open Publishing Stance

Some people are surprised that Borders would want "their" e-books to show up in competitors' stores, but it makes sense when you think about  the self-publishing customer. They want their content to be everywhere  that people want to buy it.

I can tell you from spending two days in a booth with Kelly Peterson and talking extensively with others at Borders that they're one of the  most customer-focused companies around. They understand that authors -- a category that now potentially includes each and every one of  you -- don't want their content to be defined or confined based on which service or programs they use to create it. The customer always comes first for them, and with self-publishing the book always belongs to the author.

I heard Kelly put it this way: "If you buy a piece of clothing at a store, you expect to be able to wear it everywhere, not just in the store where you bought it." You can see that evidenced with the wide variety of e-book readers and apps Borders promotes, beyond the Kobo reader the company invested in last year.

I'm also excited to work with Borders because they, and bookstores in general, are part of the fabric of local communities -- that rapidly disappearing third place that has been so important in the history of civil life. Other types of third spaces exist online, but at a local level physical meeting spaces are still important. Digital community engagement is the common thread  in my most meaningful endeavors (Bakotopia, Printcasting and AOL Hometown as just a few examples), and as a previous recipient of a Knight News Challenge grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation I'm a proud  public champion of helping the news and information needs of communities in the digital age. I see BookBrewer and Borders Get Published being strongly connected to those goals.

No Man is an Island

On that note, I want to once again thank the Knight Foundation for its role in the Printcasting project, which evolved into my company FeedBrewer, Inc., from which the Knight Foundation will one day benefit thanks to a voluntary 6 percent gift to the Knight Media Innovation Fund. While the Knight  Foundation didn't provide any funding for our proudly "bootstrapped" BookBrewer (and we did not ask for any), BookBrewer is an example of how non-profit seed funds can light a spark that continues to burn later.

It's my sincere hope that future successes from BookBrewer will go to help fund other startups that help local news and information.

The technology for BookBrewer is all new and distinct from Printcasting, but the thinking, methodology and customer insights evolved from it. In fact, thinking back, the biggest thing we learned from Printcasting was that even first-time print publishers really wanted to be multi-platform digital publishers. They just didn't know that until they got their feet wet. In the space of a few weeks after publishing a PDF magazine, they would start asking us if they could publish the same stories into Facebook or as a blog, and they would tell us that they saw print as only a small part of their future business.

They also started asking about e-books as the Kindle and, later, iPad grew in popularity.

The feedback we're getting with e-books validates that. People occasionally ask us if we can provide print-on-demand paperbacks for their books, but when we say we're currently focused on digital books they're fine with that. Most just want to make sure older readers who don't have e-reading devices, iPhones or iPads to have a print option. (And we will be looking into that, by the way).

What I've learned through this process is that when you have an idea that you're passionate about, people will step in at the last minute to help you out. I think the BookBrewer product engenders a desire to reciprocate after authors see how much it can do for them. We even had the leader of a writer's group in Florida buy an ad in a conference program for BookBrewer with her own funds -- a first in my 15 years of working on digital products.

I also want to thank Jon Nordmark, the co-founder of Wambo.com and founder and former CEO of Denver-based eBags. He facilitated Denver's inaugural class for Adeo Ressi's Founder Institute, an intensive technology and mentoring program. For four months, I would spend every Tuesday night from 5:30 to 9 p.m. with him, other startup CEO mentors, and founders of 17 other companies. We would sound ideas off each other, refine them, give and receive brutal feedback, and delve deeply into the business behind our businesses. While I had a lot of ideas before, I can safely say that without the Founder Institute program I never would have been able to create this product at this time and get it in front of Borders. Nordmark also helped with the Borders introduction.

Fellow Founder Institute graduate Todd Levy, co-founder of BloomWorlds, and his girlfriend Laurelie Lee Ezra also stepped in at the last minute to man our BlogWorld Expo booth and talked to hundreds of people about BookBrewer as if it was their product. I will never forget that, and can't wait to talk more about BloomWorlds once it launches.

Then of course there's Don Hajicek and Andy Lasda, my amazing team of co-founders, who have worked tirelessly on this alongside me with no pay other than generous equity. You learn a lot about people when you're down in the trenches with them, and these two are solid. In addition to their incredible development and product design skills, they've shown incredible faith and dedication. And a big thank-you to our advisors, especially Kit Seeborg from BumperTunes.

Last but not least, there's my family. My wife Kendall Slee and two daughters have given up many nights and weekends with me, and also helped with ideas and feedback. (My 7-year-old Lauren even published an e-book that was for sale in Amazon, and she's now perfecting a second edition.) My mom and dad even pitched in at the end to handle the logistics of ordering last-minute t-shirts for our BlogWorld booth.

Start Brewing Your e-book!

...But I guess you should expect that from a community-focused product. BookBrewer is and will continue to successful thanks to the community of people behind it. Hopefully that also includes you. Start brewing your e-books so we can help you get published and featured by Borders!

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October 16 2010

22:52

Books as makers of publics

Here’s my talk to the O’Reilly Tools of Change conference in Frankfurt before the Book Fair there, in which I argue that books are tools for making publics and now that we all have presses publishers must ask how they can play a role in helping us make publics — and how they can protect our tools of publicness.

I’m having trouble setting the width of the player, so go to the “more” link and you can watch the videos.

July 27 2010

15:36

Starz Partners with Penguin for Video-Enhanced iPad Series of Ken Follett Book

Premium cable network Starz has partnered with book publisher Penguin to create an "amplified iPad edition" of Ken Follett's bestselling book "Pillars of the Earth." 


Starz just launched an original series based on the book and contributed original videos, art and music to the iPad edition, which includes the book as well. 


It's a marketing marriage worth noting, because it taps into the storytelling potential of the iPad, which has sold more than 3 million units in just a few months.

-Daisy Whitney


Editor's Note:  This post is Daisy's New Media Minute, which is produced separately from Beet.TV.  We are delighted to publish it regularly. AP


Tags: Books Media

July 23 2010

01:20

Don’t fragment books (or other content)

I agree with Devin Coldewey at CrunchGear that Andrew Wylie’s deal to publish big authors’ backlists exclusively on the Amazon Kindle is bad for readers (and for authors and for the industry).

Fragmenting content such that one has to buy one device to read one author and another to read another is blind to the needs and realities of the market. It’s dealmaking for dealmaking’s sake.

If I were one of those authors, I’d squeal like a columnist put behind a Times paywall (either one). Random House is right to stick it back to Wylie and refuse to do business with the now-niche agency. And Amazon is putting itself in a dangerous position to be the enemy, not the friend, of writers, publishers, and readers. But Amazon’s no fool. It is driving a wedge into the heart of the industry.

The real upshot of this deal, I think, is that agents and publishers alike will find themselves locked out as big authors make deals directly with Amazon.

Yes, the Kindle reader is available on laptops and phones and iPads and coming Android tablets. But it won’t be available on other eBooks, and that’s going to hurt the eBook market’s growth, which could affect Amazon, even as it announces that its Kindle book sales exceeded hardback sales last month.

This is the same fear I have about the appification of content with magazine editors gleefully slapping their stories onto iPad apps in the belief that it returns control of the experience and business model to them when, in fact, it cuts them off from every browser user around the world. Nose. Face. Where’s my knife?

In the early days of content on mobile, we saw this game play out: Carriers made exclusive deals to get content in hopes that would get users to buy their phones instead of the other guys’. Didn’t work. A phone’s a phone. A browser’s a browser. A book’s a book.

And an e-book better damned well be an e-book, or books and authors and publishers and agents are all screwed.

Tags: Default books
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Don't be the product, buy the product!

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